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October 15, 2009



Your approach would make sense if the federal and state (and here in canada, provincial) governments (on behalf of the people at large) didn't constantly prop up arts agencies, even if they resist the "gravity" of diversity. Even if you don't personally go to their shows, you are keeping them alive with your tax dollars. Problem is, we want to keep arts in general alive with tax dollars because it seems like even the pro-diversity and companies couldn't survive on their own. So where do you draw the line on which companies can be allowed to fail and which need to be supported? I think questions of race, gender, and sexuality politics come up precicely because it isn't just companies choosing to die rather than change, but is instead companies choosing to leech rather than change. (Note: I support grants for the arts, just wondering how you propose letting select companies fail on principle without politicizing the granting process.)


Thanks for the links and the good thoughts and comments. It's a terrific metaphor. As with Jonathan, though, I have some disagreements with just waiting for organizations to embrace diversity or collapse. As I'm sure you agree, it takes some significant investments in the infrastructure of an organization to reach out to new audiences and new artists. I find that this is often stymied by the need to serve current audiences and certainly to keep your current funders happy. A while back, I posted a conversation I had with a theatre patron of a certain age talking about a show she saw at a major institution, basically saying that the piece was good, but it needed to be toned down in order to reach people like her, the "people who go to the theatre" as she put it. Because she was a donor she had the ear of the AD at that theatre. I don't know if the notes were passed on, and, in the end, I believe the theatre wound up producing the play anyway, but that's part of the tension of the situation. To connect to the diverse and new audiences out there, you have to risk losing the audiences and funding base you already have, and I think most theatres are (rightfully) nervous about that. That's one of the things that props up organizations that resist real diversity (in terms of staffing, in terms of artistic programming and artistic hiring). Not to be blunt about it, but as long as there are wealthy white people available to pay for plays that appeal to wealthy white people, plays that appeal to poor black people will struggle to find oxygen.



I could easily be wrong but I don't get the sense that most arts institutions, particularly midsized to larger ones, are being propped up by fed, state or local money. Most of them are funded through a mixture of ticket sales and individual donations.

And I think arts organizations are self-selecting whether they want to live or die by the choices they make. I'm saying our role should be to support and encourage those who are choosing to live and thrive by embracing diversity and leave those who do not to their own fate . . . whatever it may be.


> Not to be blunt about it, but as long as there are wealthy white people available to pay for plays that appeal to wealthy white people, plays that appeal to poor black people will struggle to find oxygen. <

But that's the thing, those wealthy white arts patrons don't really exist anymore. I could point you out a million studies that show that the number of wealthy people who give to the arts is reducing and the size of gift they are giving is getting smaller.

That's what drives me crazy about the whole thing. Arts organizations are chasing ghosts. They keep convincing themselves that if they keep appealing to her supposed "interest" that rich ol' lady is going to open up the purse strings eventually.

But she isn't.

She's going to give that money to a hospital.

Or to her grandkids.

Not the arts.

So instead of moving with gravity and embracing the large audience that is developing . . . even though they may give much smaller individual donations . . . they keep chasing ghosts.

That's why I feel sorry for them.


Hm. Good, good point. I wasn't aware that the winds had shifted quite so much. It really gives the whole micro-fundraising ideas even more credence. Now if the standard business model can catch up (or move out of the way), we can make some real changes. Can you send along links to the studies?

Tony Adams

Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend, who's thinking about starting his own company on the south side. He was asking for advice on the business end of things. As we kept talking, I think he and I came on the same point. There are no black storefront theatres. (okay I can think of one, maybe, but they've been around for 30 years.)

I think that's a huge problem. Whats lost in-talking about artists of color at the major institutions so much is: where are the places for young artists to cut their teeth and unlearn everything the were told in college? Almost no artists are able to take their diploma and suddenly be ready to walk onto Steppenwolf's stage.

So what happens in the generation between gravity taking down some folks and new folks rising? (I think there's a generational gap at work as well.)

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